Louis XVIII 1755 to 1824 enters Paris at the Restoration of 1814 from Histoire de France by Colart published circa 1840 (Photo by Universal History Archive/Getty Images)
Artillery Row

Vive Le Roi!

French Royalist groups wait for a king, but is their cause surely lost?

In Paris, almost twenty years ago, for the publication of the French edition of my novel “Shadows of Empire”, I had been renewing acquaintance with the Marais, then, back on the rue de Rivoli, went to buy a pack of Gitanes (papier mais) in the tabac of the Bar des Templiers. At first glance the Bar itself was a large rather scruffy café, frequented by taxi-drivers (half-a -dozen taxis being parked outside) and middle-aged men playing fruit machines or filling out “tierce” slips.

But the décor was a bit unusual, and so, I realized, was the Bar. There was a portrait photograph of a handsome young man, and the caption: “Louis XX, Roi de France.” Louis XX? The last Louis to have been king was Louis XVIII, the Bourbon restored to the throne after Napoleon’s downfall. I had, it seemed, happened on a Royalist bar. There were portraits also of Joan of Arc and Marie Antoinette, and the notice of a Requiem Mass (the old Tridentine Latin Mass outlawed since the Second Vatican Council) for Louis XVI. All rather rum, also pleasing to a Scot with ancestral Jacobite sympathies.

Henri, Comte de Paris broke with a movement that supported the monarchy’s return to appeal to people who didn’t; not clever

Louis XX? That indicated that this wasn’t only a Royalist bar, but a Legitimist one. French royalists may not be numerous; they are certainly not united. The handsome young man was a Prince of the House of Bourbon-Parma, a descendant in the male line of Louis XIV, by way of his grandson, Philippe, Duc d’Anjou, who inherited the throne of Spain by the will of the last Habsburg King, Carlos II , in 1700. When the news of the Will reached Versailles, Louis presented young Philippe to the Court with the somewhat rash, if rather splendid, assertion that there were no more Pyrenees. The Austrian claimant to the Spanish Empire disagreed and was supported by England and the United Provinces of the Netherlands. So the War of the Spanish Succession followed. It ended with the French prince established as King of Spain, but required by the Treaty of Utrecht to resign any claim to the French throne for himself and his descendants. So, some would say, Louis XX is disbarred.

The Bourbon monarchy restored in 1814 and again the next year , after the interlude of Napoleon’s return was ended at Waterloo, lasted only till 1830 when the “July Revolution” saw Charles X flee first to England and then to Austria. A Constitutional Monarchy was established with Louis-Philippe, Duc d’Orleans, taking the title “King of the French”. Louis-Philippe was descended, not from Louis XIV, but from his brother Philippe. There was intense ill-feeling between the two branches of the Bourbon family because Louis-Philippe’s father had supported the Revolution in 1789, become a member of the National Assembly, dropped his title, calling himself Philippe Egalite, and even voted in favour of the execution of his cousin, Louis XVI. (It didn’t do him much good; he soon went to the guillotine himself.)

The July Monarchy lasted till 1848 when a Revolution sent Louis-Philippe into exile (in England again), and was followed by the Second Republic, and then in 1852 by the Second Empire, which was itself brought down by defeat in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. Surprisingly there was a Royalist majority in the first post-war Assembly, and a Restoration seemed not only possible, but likely. But which Pretender should be restored : the Legitimist or the Orleanist?

The former was the grandson of Charles X. He was known as “the infant of the Miracle” because he had been born a few months after the assassination of his father, the Duc de Berri. He had spent most of his life in Austria and chose to be known as the Comte de Chambord. Surprisingly, though there seem to have been a few more Orleanist Deputies than Legitimist ones, they were prepared to accept Chambord, principally because he had no son to succeed him, and the assumption was that on his death, the Crown would pass to the Orleanist candidate. All was set for a Restoration till Chambord with true Bourbon folly refused to accept the Tricoleur as the flag of France and insisted on “le Drapeau Blanc” with its fleur-de-lis – an example of which adorned one wall of the Bar des Templiers. The (temporary) President, Marshal MacMahon, though himself a Royalist, as befitted a descendant of Irish Jacobites, pointed out that the French weren’t going to give up the Tricoleur associated with Napoleonic glory. So there was no Bourbon Restoration, and the Third Republic survived, being described by the veteran politician Adolphe Thiers, himself once an Orleanist Prime Minister, as “the regime that divides Frenchmen least.”

Royalism wasn’t yet dead however. Indeed in the first decades of the Twentieth Century, it was intellectually lively. The movement “Action Francaise” and its newspaper of the same name had a disproportionate influence on the Right wing of French politics, and was supported by bishops and Catholic writers. However its appeal, though deep, was also narrow, and when, between the wars, Action Francaise seemed to flirt with Fascism, the Orleanist Pretender, Henri, Comte de Paris, severed his links with it. In truth he broke with a movement that really supported the return of the monarchy in order to appeal to people who didn’t; not clever.

1940: French Marshal Henri Philippe Petain (1856 – 1951) (Photo by Central Press/Getty Images)

The disaster of 1940 and the establishment of the Vichy Regime with the venerable Marshal Petain as Head of State seemed to offer an opportunity to the Pretender. The Marshal was already 84. Why shouldn’t he name the Comte de Paris as his dauphin and successor-in-waiting? The Vichy Prime Minister, Pierre Laval, was sceptical. The trouble, he remarked to the Pretender, was that so few French People knew anything about him, or even who he was. Laval however had a sense of humour. “Perhaps you should become Minister of Food,” he said. “That would give the French People a chance to get to know you.” Given that at a time of shortages and rationing any Minister of Food was bound to be unpopular, the suggestion did not appeal to the Comte de Paris. He withdrew to French North Africa.

“Operation Torch”, the Allied landings there in November ‘42 again appeared to offer another opportunity to the Comte. Perhaps President Roosevelt, who had maintained diplomatic relations with Vichy and both distrusted and disliked General de Gaulle and his Free French, might, the Comte suggested, realize that a constitutional monarchy, with himself as King, was just what France needed? Roosevelt didn’t think so. Instead the Americans decided to back the former Vichy Prime Minister, Admiral Darlan who by chance was in Algiers at the time of the landings. This offended both the Pretender and the Gaullists. Darlan was assassinated. The assassin, an idealistic student, probably a royalist, was quickly apprehended and shot. But nobody thought he had acted of his own accord. Who had put him up to it? Some were sure the Gaullists were responsible. Some pointed the finger at the Royalists. Some thought the two had acted hand-in-glove. If you apply the test “cui bono?”, you’ll plump for the Gaullists.

Jean Bourdier, my translator who became a good friend, thought otherwise. Jean was, or had been, a Royalist himself, and was certainly a man of the Right, a believer in “Algerie Francaise”, “Allan,” he once said to me, “there is only one person I have really hated.” “Who was that, Jean?” “De Gaulle”. He had indeed worked with the Comte de Paris, but become disillusioned with him, and was in no doubt that he had been responsible for the assassination of Darlan. ”He was a murderer, you know.” Given his hatred of de Gaulle, I found this convincing.

De Gaulle himself came from a Royalist family and had no great love of the Republic. After he returned to power in 1958 and became President, establishing the Fifth Republic and, as Jean would have it, betraying the cause of “Algerie Francaise”, he treated the Comte de Paris with respect, even to the extent of letting the Pretender hope that he might name him as his successor. But whatever his Royalist sympathies, de Gaulle knew it wouldn’t do, and the Pretender was disappointed yet again.

“Naturally the times are against it,” my Royalists told me, “but the Republic has failed France. We need a King. So we wait.”

On a visit to the Bar towards the end of January a couple of years later there was a huge bouquet of lilies propped against the wall below a portrait of Louis XVI. It was, I realized, the anniversary of his execution, and there was an “In Memoriam” card from “La Cercle des Royalistes de Nimes.” Later that evening, I fell into conversation with a group of Royalists, a couple of them Bretons from La Vendee where armed Resistance to the Revolution had been carried on for years. “So your king is Louis XX?” I said. “Of course. The Orleanists are no better than Republicans. You must know that Philippe so-called Egalite was one of those whose votes sent Louis XVI to the guillotine.”

Indeed, according to a folder of Royalist papers they gave me, the Orleanist Pretender wasn’t a Bourbon at all. The last true Bourbon Duc d’Orleans was Louis XIV’s brother Philippe whose first wife was the Stuart Princess, Henriette-Anne, Charles I’s youngest child. It was Philippe’s second wife, a German Princess, who gave birth to a son who became Regent of France on Louis XIV’s death. However, according to my Royalists, the Regent was a bastard, the son of an “inconnu”. Just in case this theory didn’t hold, they affirmed that the future Egalite wasn’t the son of his notional and legal father either; and indeed Egalite had himself made this claim during the Revolution when he dropped his title and requested legal authority to call himself Egalite. All this is a bit improbable, and, I would have thought, unnecessary on the part of my new Royalist chums.
“And do you think there is any chance of a Restoration?” “Naturally the times are against it, but the Republic has failed France. We need a King. So we wait.”

If you consult Google you will find there are Royalist groups in most big cities and towns, especially in the south-west. But I guess their wait will be a long one. On a more recent visit to Paris I discovered that sadly the Bar des Templiers had suffered gentrification, and was no longer a Royalist outpost. If they have lost the Bar des Templiers, I thought, their Cause surely is lost indeed.

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